the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

December 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Covers

It’s like being stood at a Bristol bus stop waiting for the quarter-hourly no. 49 into the city centre: you wait half an hour and then two come at once. And so it is with magazine covers. Despite the apparent demise and “slow death” (I’m told) of print, the kudos of landing a front cover is still something we photographers kind of enjoy. After all it’s the one image that people have to look at for a whole month, unlike the ephemeral online photo-of-the-day. And I landed two last month – both on leading UK mountain bike mags. But the two cover images couldn’t be have two more different stories behind them.


Kamil Tatarkovic, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia. Nikon D600, Nikkor 50mm/1.4

Magazine covers are a political animal. There are rafts of self-justifying PR companies and media researchers responsible for ‘important’ ideas of how they should look to better sell a magazine – action left to right, subject positioning on the cover to allow cover line text, colours and vibrancy, size of the subject, coming towards or going away (when do you see covers of people riding away from the camera?), and sometimes (dare I say it) the make of bike and clothing the rider is wearing and its connection to potential advertising revenue.

Obviously the cover image is meant to first grab attention and then draw the reader in to want to splash some cash and take the mag home to read instead of racing family pressures to go and eat some junk food while trying to scan read as much of the mag as possible among WHS’ shelves. So while the editorial teams of both these mags thought these images ticked the appropriate cover boxes, these two photos come from very, very different backgrounds.

mbr dec15

James Brickell, Finale Ligure, Italy. Nikon D3s, Nikkor 70-200/f4.

MBR wanted a shot from the Italian riding Mecca of Finale Ligure, to link with an editorial inside the mag. Having just done a shoot there for my regular client Endura, and with Endura’s blessing, I passed over some of the shots that I thought might work for an MBR cover (it helps to know the style of the magazines you work for when you submit images). It’s shot on a trail I know well and this section has a little wall-ride kind of feel to it. OK its not a real wall ride, but it’s enough of an off camber rock slab to be able to throw some shape to the riding. Its surprising how much more ‘dynamics’ can be added to the shot by simply turning the bars instead of riding straight. And so cover number one is from a “catalogue” shoot. Ok, so bike catalogue shoots aren’t exactly a BHS knitwear shoot – we do actually have to go and ride bikes, which means getting to a trail, lugging in the camera gear and riding and re-riding, and usually riding again, sections of trail until the pedantic photographer has nailed the shot they want (i.e., showing the product in an authentic way). Job done. A colourful cover with solid action and a happy client to boot.

November’s MBUK cover is a different fish. Shot during an 8 day traverse of Ethiopia’s high, rugged Simien Mountains, this natural berm was just one corner among a hundred on our descent during day two. It’s refreshing to see MBUK run a ‘real riding’ cover like this -backpack and all- especially knowing where and when it was shot and the adventure side of just reaching that point in our journey. There was no shuttle to the trail, no “let’s just wait for the light to be right” and no “let’s session this a dozen times” kind of luxury for this cover shot. On a genuine point to point ride across some very unforgiving terrain, you have little time to stop and play or to re-shoot. On rides like this there are simply too many time-absorbing unknowns ahead to have that kind of freedom. You have to make assessments on the hoof, to decide if something is worthy of stopping and shooting, to set up quickly and get the shot and move on. It’s a set of pressures that are very unlike the catalogue shoot.

The one common denominator is working with riders that can ride and look good on a bike. It’s not something that comes naturally to most (believe me), but it sure helps make a cover easier to score.



November 20, 2013

MBR cover this month – it’s more than it seems

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 11:10 am

Landed the MBR cover this month, with a shot from this time last year riding from the Emmosson dam in Switzerland with friends Lucy and Phil from Bike Verbier. This was a week after we returned from our India Pindari trip.

mbr december

Leica M9, Zeiss 21 2.8.

The call-in for coveresque images came in from the mags ed’ wanting ‘Alpine possibilities’ to fit in with a big feature on the Savoie Enduro race. What makes this a fresh take for me, is that it’s actually a landscape shot that I’ve cropped to fit the portrait cover format. It’s not something I do regularly (or colour-swap a rider’s jersey colour, I leave that to the art ed’s of the mags) but every now and then, it’s hard to lose out on the credibility (and cash) of a cover shot because I’m clinging doggedly to some on-location perception of art or composition.

But in case you’re at all wondering what the original landscape looks like, here it is. And yes of course I prefer the landscape shot, inversion cloud and all. That’s how I shot it. God, what a sell out.

Leica M9, Zeiss 21/2.8, @ 1/100th, f4.8

Leica M9, Zeiss 21/2.8, @ 1/1000th, f4.8

February 22, 2011

When the bets are each way: scoring bike mag covers in the snow

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 8:25 pm

Wonder no more. They may have forgotten to credit (something that after years in the business you’re used to, but still somehow really grates) the cover image on the new MBR Photo special out this month, but take it from me, it’s one of mine. I say “grates” as it’s probably my favourite shot from last year’s mountain bike sessions. And it started with a bet.

Mike and Jez revel in post bet-winning glow. Leica M8, Voigtlander 12/5.6

Simply, I bet Mike that we could reach the trail without having to put a foot down.

An hour of hiking through snow to reach this trail –one of my favourites in the Chamonix valley- in late October meant I lost the bet, but seeing the shot gracing MBR’s cover it seems to have paid off. Long after the lifts close, Chamonix locals get their trails back, free from the hoards of milling tourists and stupid, illogical and alarmingly proliferating  bike restrictions. Free from the temptations of chair lifts, all we have to do is be willing to ride or hike up to them again. But the race is on of course, trying to squeeze in as many “last rides” as possible before yielding our trails to the winter snows. This day was one such “last ride”, trying to reach the 1800m altitude start point of this descent only a few days after the hills became buried in 30 cm of snow, anxious that it might be our last decent big ride. I felt sure though that we could reach the start point of the descent, riding up a lung-busting climb without having to ever get off and push. All looked fine for most of the climb until we crept over the final brow to where the climb rolls into a col in the mountains. Bang! knee deep snow. So an hour later of pushing and carrying we rolled into the descent with sodden feet and tingling toes, heading for this corner that I’ve tried shooting before but never quite found the ‘right’ angle to do it justice. Helped by the energy that comes with 2 riders in the shot, and with light almost failing to October dusk, I knew I’d got the shot I always wanted.  Moody, gritty, this is one of those shots that to me at least , shouts real mountain biking.

Blog at